Saturday, June 11, 2011

This Blog Has MOVED....

Yes the rumors are true - this blog has now moved to a new neighborhood.  Please come check us out in our new and improved home:

See you over there!

Monday, May 9, 2011

12 Life Lessons From a Golf Tournament

During the past 3 months I have been planning a charity golf tournament, as a way of raising money for Operation Rebound and the Challenged Athletes Foundation.  I committed to raise $10,000 before September 1, so I’ve been busy planning.  I’ve played in about 5 charity golf tournaments, but never ever planned one.  The past 3 months have been a very unique adventure; I learned a lot of surprising things.  Here are the highlights…

1.     You can’t always believe what people tell you.  The first golf course I contacted assured me they would LOVE to host my golf tournament.  We discussed several dates, picked  a date and time and lunch menu, and during the next 3 weeks, I thought I had my location nailed down.  I was wrong.  Turns out the golf committee wouldn’t approve me having a tournament on a Saturday morning in May.  I spent another 2 weeks trying to change their mind, but to no avail.  After 5 weeks, I still had no event location. 

2.     People are incredibly flaky.  Really, they are.  You just can’t count on people to follow through on what they say they will do.  People who say they will sponsor you won’t come through.  People who say they will golf in your tournament will drop out.  Not everyone can be counted on to follow through.  This is real life.

3.     People are incredibly helpful and generous.  I had a handful of colleagues who really helped out, and volunteered their own time to help plan the event. Other people made generous contributions.  I could not have done this without the help of many other people.  Time is precious and the fact that they donated their time was so incredibly generous. I remain grateful for the generosity of others.   

4.     I hate asking people for money.  I really really hate it.  HATE IT.  Did I mention I hate it?

5.     I hate making phone calls.  In the age of email and twitter and text messaging, phone calls are just SOOOO inefficient.  The person you are calling is almost NEVER available when you call, and then they call you back and leave a message, and you call them back. Playing phone tag just drives me NUTS – it can go on forever.  Phones STINK. 

6.     You can’t really ask people to support something you don’t believe in completely. You have to have your heart in something in order to ask other people to contribute.

7.     People will match the level of energy that you put into something.   Energy is contagious and enthusiasm in contagious.  You can’t fake your energy, either you have it or you don’t.  Energy generates energy

8.     You can’t fake the fact that you care.  You have to really believe in something to generate action in others.  You can’t just go through the motions.  This means you need to know what you really care about.  If you don’t know, then you need to figure it out. 

9.     Sometimes, things just fall apart.  Sponsors cancel, the event costs increase, or other crap just happens.  This goes with the territory.  Be prepared for it. 

10. Sometimes, things just come together and surprise you.  PING came through and Fed Exed me an awesome raffle prize.  Several local resorts came through with free weekends for the raffle.  Some volunteers went above and beyond and some golfers paid for other golfers to play.  Appreciate the positive surprises.

11. You can’t do something important alone.  I’ve relied on 2 key volunteers to help recruit sponsors.  They were OUTSTANDING!  And I’ve been thankful for all the golfers who recruited other golfers to play. 

12. Relationships matter.  Of all the people who have agreed to sponsor the tournament or participate as a golfer, 90% know me directly.  The others are only separated by one degree.  Strangers don’t jump in to help, friends jump in to help.  People help people they know FAR more quickly than they help strangers. 

I’m sure I’ll have a few more things to add to this list – the tournament is coming up next weekend.  Fingers crossed I don’t learn 12 more lessons before Saturday.  For those of you who regularly raise money for charities, what else would you add to this list?  

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Tell Me, What Scares You?

As I write this article from the extreme comfort of my couch, I am 184 days – exactly 6 months - away from my next adventure.  My next adventure will begin in San Francisco and end in San Diego.  I’ll be riding my bicycle 620 miles between the two cities.  I’m doing this for two reasons; one reason is about me and one reason is about other people.

First, the other people.  I’ll be raising money for The Challenged Athletes Foundation and Operation Rebound.  You can read more about them here.  I know there are a million non profit organizations out there, and I used to really struggle about which ones to support. Then I just decided to pick a few that align with my philosophies about life.  Challenged Athletes does that, because they focus on helping people use athletics and racing to transform their lives.  They are all about overcoming obstacles and inspiring others. Their tagline is “Changing Lives, One Athlete at a Time.”  Operation Rebound is their specific program focused on helping our veterans.  I feel good about supporting these groups, and I feel positive about using my energy to raise money for them.

The second reason is more about me.  I know from the research about motivation that some people are motivated by things they want to avoid, while others are motivated by things they want to pursue.  I am both.  I want to avoid becoming a lazy complacent couch potato.  I want to become someone who has fabulous and fun adventures.  I want to create unique experiences and fabulous memories.  Really what I want is to sit in my rocking chair when I’m 80 and tell some great stories about the epic adventures I had when I was younger.  I want to think back on my well lived life.  Riding my bike 620 miles down the California coastline sounds like a great way to spend a week of my life and it sounds like a great story to talk about when I’m in that rocking chair. 

In my experience, adventures are inextricably connected with personal growth.  When we embark on adventure in our life, we embark on the hero’s journey.  Joseph Campbell is the preeminent expert on the classical elements of the hero’s journey – if you are curious you can read all about him and his research here on Wikipedia.  

What I take away from his research and writing is that each of us has a responsibility in life to find and express our truest, deepest selves.  It is up to each of us to discover who we are, and follow our bliss.  As Campbell summarizes:

“The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are.”

From this perspective, the purpose of every journey is to shed the old patterns, the old ways of being in our life, so we may become more of who we truly are.  In essence, we must journey away from the typical status quo of our daily life, in order to explore deeper into our own true selves.  Adventure helps us gain perspective on our daily life and on the deepest elements of our own character.  Journeys help us figure out who we truly are.  

“The old skin has to be shed before the new one can come.”

We cannot grow if we stay on the safety of the couch all day.  We cannot experience the world from behind the television or the computer screen.  We must go out and experience our own growth, we must create the meaning we want in our life.  Beginning any sort of adventure will assuredly trigger insights, growth and change. 

“We cannot cure the world of sorrows, but we can choose to live in joy.”

There is a lot that is troubling about the world right now.  There is a lot about the world I cannot change.  But there are many things I can change, and there are actions I can take.  What I want to do is create awesome memorable joyful experiences that make me smile.  Because when I am smiling I can share that joy with others.  When I am inspired, I can inspire others.  Less fear, more joy – that would be a great bumper sticker. 

When I think about embarking on this 620 mile bike ride that is only six months away, I feel a pang of panic in the pit of my stomach.  I am panicked because of all the training I will need to do, I am panicked because of the time I will need to commit.  I don’t know anyone else doing the ride, I have no idea what the weather will be like, I don’t know how hard the hills will be or how much my body will hurt. I don't even know if my body will hold up.  620 miles is a long way.  There is so much I don’t know about what lies ahead and the unknowing is what makes me nervous.

That is also what makes me excited.  Because it is exactly that fear that tells me I’m doing the right thing.  I need something that scares me in order to grow.  I don’t need a truckload of fear, I don’t need to be paralyzed, and I don’t need to be overwhelmed.  But I do need to be stretched beyond what is comfortable.  I want to live to the edges of my life, because the edges are where I feel most alive.

We all need this.  We all need something that scares us a little.  Not a lot, but a little.  We need something that will pull us away from the television and the computer, out into the world, out into our own adventures. 

I believe we are all heroes.  And every hero needs an adventure.  Your adventure might be raising your children or starting a new business or planning your retirement.  You might be scared to apply for a new job or a new promotion. I don’t know what your adventure might be, but I guarantee if you listen to your body and pay attention to when your stomach knots up, you will figure it out. 

When you get that feeling of panic in your stomach, stop and listen.  Listen to what scares you and listen to what excites you.  Listen to what grabs your attention.  Listen for where the edges are.  Lean into the edges, peer over the cliff.  There is a vast territory out there beyond the borders of your comfort zone.  Exploring that territory is what being a hero is all about. 

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Who Do You Really Work For?

For my day job that pays the bills, I work in a large corporation.  We have 12,000 employees in our Tucson location.  That’s a lot of people.  We have our own fire department and everything.  Since I work on a lot of different projects in many different departments, I am constantly meeting new people.  One of the most common questions I get asked when meeting new people is:  Who do you work for? 

I always pause a couple seconds at this question, because the question doesn’t really make sense to me.  I want to give the most obvious answer: I work for me. 

But that’s not what people are really asking and that’s not how I respond.  What they are really asking is two things:  Where do I fit into the organization structure?  And secondly, how high in the organization do I report?  Because in a large corporate environment, people want to know your position, your title, and more importantly – who your boss is.  They want to know these things so they can figure out how important you are, how much time they should give you, and whether they should listen to what you have to say. 

I can’t tell you how many people new people ask me who my boss is.  And this just makes me crazy sometimes.  I realize this information matters to them – because hierarchy and bosses matters to people who value positional power.

I don’t really value positional power as much as I value other things.  Yes, I respect authority and direction and alignment, and all that jazz.  I am not a wild independent maverick going crazy all over the workplace. 

But I really value who a person is and what they can contribute, more than I value their title and their position in the hierarchy.   I develop and maintain relationships with coworkers whom I respect and value, regardless of their rank or position in the organization.  For many of my closest friends, I really don’t always know who they report to.  That doesn’t matter to me.  What matters is if they have integrity and if they follow through on what they say.  I care about people who are sincere and can be trusted and are authentic.  And I don’t stop caring about them if they get demoted or fired or they retire. 

Positional power is temporary and one dimensional and shallow.  Genuine power is a reflection of who a person is in ALL areas of their life.   Genuine influence comes from people who are self aware and make intentional choices in their life.  Genuine power is independent of job title.

When I am asked who I work for – I want to answer that I work for myself and I work for my customers.  Because my customers are who matter to me, and I believe it is my job to figure out how to provide value to my customers.    

I suspect that people who believe they work for themselves or their customers are more likely to demonstrate initiative and innovation in the workplace.  This would be interesting to research, to dig deeper into motivation and loyalty, to compare different workplace environments and mindsets about hierarchies. 

This reminds me of the story of the bricklayers:

The story goes, that three bricklayers were working side by side. When asked, "What are you doing?", the first bricklayer replied:

"I'm laying bricks."  The second bricklayer was asked. He answered,

"Feeding my family."

The third bricklayer when asked the question, "What are you doing?", responded,
"I'm building a cathedral."

Perhaps someone should have also asked the three bricklayers who they work for.  I bet all three would have given different answers.

In any case, I’m curious about you, and who you think you work for.  Do you work for your boss, or the person who signs your paycheck?  Do you work for your customers?  Do you have days when you believe you work for yourself?  Do you have a desire to work for yourself?  Do you think it's possible to work for yourself within a larger organization? Think about these questions and let me know.  

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

What You Can Learn About Life From Your Muscles

Everyone I know wants to have strong muscles, but not everyone wants to do the work to build them. A muscle will wither from neglect – it needs nutrients to function well. A muscle will get stronger with training, but you need to train it regularly. At the risk of carrying a metaphor too far, here’s a few lessons we can learn from our muscles.

1. The more frequently you practice good habits, the more ingrained they become. If you lift weights once a month, you won’t make much improvement in the strength category. But if you lift weights three or four times a week, you will get stronger. The more often you do something, the faster you will improve. Sporadic effort won’t generate good results. Therefore, commit to weightlifting 3 times a week. Don’t just commit. Act. The beautiful thing about weightlifting is that if you do it, you will physically see results. There is a significant feedback loop in action here and positive feedback is a powerful motivator. In life, you need to practice good habits regularly and frequently in order to see results.

2. The more strength you build up, the more capacity you have. This sounds pretty darned obvious, but I just want to point out you can’t pick up 250 pounds of weights without sufficient muscles. You can’t just snap your fingers and have a new career or a new relationship. You need to build up the capacity to achieve what you want in life. You need a support system and enablers to the life you want to create. Similarly, muscles are enablers to other activities, and they provide the support system to your bones. Your bones might do the heavy lifting, but without your muscles, they won’t work right. Every successful life has a support system, so make sure you are creating a strong one.

3. You can't start out lifting 300 lbs - you have to work up to it. Start small and don’t expect you’ll be the strongest person in the gym. Better yet, don’t even compare yourself to anyone else at the gym. When you are a beginner, you can’t do anything other than start where you are. If you want to lift 300 pounds, but you can only lift 120 today, then start by lifting 120. You don’t start out with 300 lbs, you work your way up to it. This is relevant because in life, we need to have appropriate expectations. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t dream, it just means that you shouldn’t quit your job if you have no money in the bank and no new job prospects. If you lift too much weight too soon, you will get injured and then you’ll be sidelined. Life is the same way – if you bite off too much too soon, you will crash and burn. Put together a plan to get to 300 lbs, and follow that plan. But don’t try to lift 300 lbs on day one. That won’t work and life doesn’t work that way. Figure out the goal and then put together your plan. Change doesn’t happen overnight and muscles don’t grow overnight.

4. You get stronger when you rest. Yes it’s true, your muscles repair themselves INBETWEEN workouts. The workout creates the muscles tears that repair themselves when you rest. You cannot workout continually without rest because that causes illness and injury. The strongest people I know are skilled at recovery and recuperation and they value this aspect of their life. The smartest people know that interval training is incredibly effective. Effort + rest = gain. Enjoy your rest and know that you’re getting stronger even while you sleep.

What else can you add to this list? How else can we extend this metaphor? I’d love to hear your thoughts…

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Where's Your Best Space?

Research has indicated that there are three primary learning styles: visual, auditory and kinesthetic. Everyone has one or two styles that is most effective for them, and each styles indicates how people most best process information . Personally, I am a very strong kinesthetic learner. This means that I learn by touching and doing things and I need to have direct experience of something. It also means I need to be physically active and engaged with things in order to stay focused.

Here’s some ways being a kinesthetic learner has shaped my life:

- All throughout college and grad school, I would rewrite all my lecture notes in order to be able to remember the information. After I had physically rewritten my notes once, I remembered the information.
- I have NEVER been able to listen to books on tape, and I generally don’t like to learn things via audio alone.
- In fact, I generally don’t retain new information when I hear it; I need to see something in order to retain it.
- When I designed my new home office, I covered the walls in white boards, so that I can physically write and draw things as I am working.
- I have rearranged the office furniture in every office I have ever worked.
- I much prefer to work in offices with other people, where there is physical interaction with other people. 

- I never follow the instructions for how to assemble products, I have to pick up the pieces to see how they fit together

Because I’m a very strong kinesthetic learner, I’m very sensitive to physical spaces. Houses, conference rooms, restaurants, stores - whatever the location, I’m always noticing how the space is laid out, and how I physically feel in each space. I hate when restaurants are poorly designed and I really hate when conference rooms are cluttered with tables and chairs that don’t enable genuine interactions between people. Physical spaces should always be designed for a specific purpose and it drives me crazy when rooms are cluttered with random furniture. After leaving a room, I will generally always remember how the room was laid out.

This also means that when it comes time for me to clear my head, or sort through a problem, or release stress, I need to be physically active. And I prefer to be physically active in spaces that inspires me. This is part of the reason why I love Tucson so much – because anywhere you are outside here you can see the mountains. Tucson is actually in the basin of four different mountain ranges so the mountains are always part of the landscape here. Whenever I run or bike or golf outside, I am aware of the physical landscape, and I love feeling that connection to the landscape. I love springtime because it means that I can run and bike in the morning before work and there will be some daylight. Here is a short photo tour of where I run with Charly in the mornings – this is where we start our day. 

These are some of the hills we run:

This road faces due north:

Facing northwest:

There's lots of little neighborhood roads around here that we love:

And here's our little neighborhood road where Charly and I run sprints:

We don't run on this road because of traffic, but here's where we bike down into Tucson:

In my writing throughout this blog, I ask people to think about a lot of questions. I try to provoke people like you to think intentionally about your life and your choices. And sometimes when it’s time to think about things, you need time AND you need space.

My recommendation to you is to be aware of the spaces where you think best. Be aware of the physical spaces, the visual stimulation, and the auditory stimulation that works best for you. Do you need quiet spaces or do you need auditory stimulation? Do you need to see things written down in order to sort them out? Or do you need to talk to someone to discuss the options on the table? Auditory learners process information differently from visual learners and kinesthetic learners. No one learning style is better than another. What’s useful is to KNOW your particular learning style so that you can organize your space around your own unique needs.

So take some time now to think about your spaces. And let me know where you think best, where you work best, where you feel most effective and most focused. Think about the spaces where you gravitate to, and the spaces you avoid. Think about the features of those spaces to figure out what they have in common. Generally, we all have choices about where we physically spend time. I say we should all spend more time in the spaces that inspire us and help us be productive. 

Thursday, March 17, 2011

What Kind of Player Are You?

Last weekend I took Charly to the park again to play frisbee. He only lasted about 30 minutes before he pooped out – tired from all the sprinting. But during those 30 minutes, he caught the frisbee nine times and I was a very proud dog mother. Driving home from the park, he was sprawled on the back seat panting, and I realized how completely happy I was watching him play. Watching him play makes my heart happy and it makes my body relax. It really doesn’t matter how many times he catches the frisbee, what matters is how much he truly loves to chase it.

During my typical standard week, I don’t have many other opportunities to experience “pure play.” Pure play can be described as pursuing something for the pure joy of it. The opposite of pure play would be pursuing something for the goal or outcome. When we engage in pure play, we feel good, we have fun, we lose sense of time, and we stop worrying about things. We play because it’s inherently attractive and fun; there’s no specific outcome or purpose to it. Stuart Brown is a psychologist who has written the definitive book on play, aptly titled Play. It’s a pretty good read – I recommend it.

After reading his book though, I came away somewhat sad about the fact that I can’t identify many times during my typical week when I truly play. Most of my days are focused on schedules and outcomes and tasks. Go here, do this, email that file, call that person, and do that errand. Then repeat. And repeat again.

Reading the book Play helped me remember the importance of play. It also illuminated the absence of it in our adult lives. Children and animals know all about play - children and animals typically play everyday. It’s only us grown up adults that somehow become too busy for play, too focused on turning everything into work.

I seriously couldn’t think of anything I’ve done during the past week that could be considered play. Even my morning exercise isn’t pure play, because it had an outcome and a purpose. So I decided I needed to change things up.

In the book Play, Stuart Brown discussed a survey that had been done by Runner’s World with many recreational runners. They found that most runners can be divided into four different types:

- the exerciser runs primarily to lose weight
- the competitor runs to improve race times or to beat others
- the enthusiast runs to experience the joy of the day
- the socializer uses running to bring people together for talking

Up until recently, I would have described myself as being primarily an exerciser and a competitor. For the seven years when I competed in triathlons, every running workout had a purpose and a schedule. Every workout was part of an overall training plan, all geared towards a specific race or event. I kept track of all my race results and I compared my progress from month to month.

So today, I decided to do something revolutionary and become a running enthusiast. I decided to run for the pure joy of it, and NOT keep track of my time or my pace or anything else. I downloaded new music onto my ipod and made sure it was charged. I put the running leash on Charly, and out we went into the sunrise.

We started out running in our own little sub-division, but we ran into too many other yappy dogs so we decided to wander. First we went up a big steep hill, and then we turned around and ran down it. Then we went up another hill, and down another one. Over and over again. We ended up doing about 8 hill intervals, just for the fun of it. By the end of our early morning adventure, Charly’s tongue was hanging down and we were both spent. And we were both completely happy.

This morning I ran in the foothills at sunrise for the pure joy of it. I came home happy and relaxed and balanced. And the rest of my day went better than yesterday.

I want to find time for more play in my life. And I want to know more about how other grown up people with jobs and families and responsibilities find time to play. What kind of player are you? Where and when do you play? I’d really appreciate it if you write in the comments something about where and when you play.

I think as a country, we could all stand to play more. Work less, play more, that’s my mantra for this week.  

Friday, March 11, 2011

Can You Answer the Question WHY?

I have to confess that I’m getting slightly tired of online bloggers who preach. There are those who preach you must work for yourself, while others preach a 4 hour work week, and others preach that you must travel. Still others preach you should only do work you are genuinely passionate about. I totally and completely appreciate their perspectives and I value the fact that they challenge people to think outside the status quo. And for the most part, I find myself inspired when I learn more about all the different ways that people design their life and their career.

But I think when it comes to you and your life, you don’t need to do anything any certain specific way. You don’t need to quit your job, you don’t need to sell your house and you don’t need to travel around the world. And sometimes it just doesn’t make sense to make a living off your passion. There are very few absolute recommendations that apply to everyone. The world is not that simple.

Here’s what I think you DO need to do. You need to know why you are living your life the way you are living it. I think that knowing WHY you are doing what you are doing with your life and being honest with yourself about your reasons is what really matters. I think is true for all of us.

For example, I work for a large corporation. If you ask the 11,000 people who work there why they work there, you might here some of these answers:

- Because I believe in the purpose of our company and I want to serve our customers
- Because it’s the only large employer in town
- Because it offers great salaries/benefits
- Because it offers long term job stability
- Because I love the work and/or my coworkers
- Because I need a stable paycheck
- Because I can’t think of anything else I’d rather do
- Because I can make more money there than other places in town
- Because I’m afraid to work for myself
- Because it’s comfortable and predictable
- Because I enjoy the challenge and diversity of the work 
- Because I'm too close to retirement to quit
- Because I’m using my time there to build my resume to go somewhere else

You can see from these answers that there would be a great deal of variability in how people respond. Some answers on that list are very honest.

What I care about when I work with people is NOT that they live their life a certain way, but that they absolutely know WHY they are doing what they are doing. I want people to have incredible self-awareness about their choices.

Ten years ago, I worked for a software start-up company that closed suddenly. Along with 100 other people, I was out of a job. But I was also in the middle of graduate school and the company that suddenly closed had been paying my tuition. So what did I do? I got a job at the only other company in town that offered tuition reimbursement, for the sole purpose of continuing my graduate degree. That is why I went to work for this company ten years ago. It was a very pragmatic decision on my part. After I finished my graduate degree, I stayed with this company for several reasons. The work was challenging and interesting. The opportunities for professional growth were huge. The people were mostly nice and sincere. The salary/benefits were generous. For the most part, I really loved my work.

But every year, I continually re-evaluate this decision. I ask myself a lot of questions to probe my only reasoning, and every year I weigh the pros and cons. I try never to take my work for granted, and above all, I never want to become complacent. 

However, I resist those people who would tell me that I’d be better off working for myself, and I resist those people who tell me that I’ve sold out to the corporation. As long as I know WHY I choose to work there, that is good enough for me, and it should be good enough for others. If I make my choices intentionally, then I find it difficult to accept the judgments of others. 

I have a coworker who hasn’t been very happy lately. He doesn’t really enjoy his work anymore, but he’s not completely miserable. He’s what I call comfortably numb – he’s become used to his current state, and he could continue this way for years without ever being really happy. If some of the preachy folks met him, they’d say he shouldn’t settle for work that doesn’t inspire him, and tell him to quit his job.

But here’s the thing. He has two elderly parents to support – and he is their primary source of financial support. And he feels a strong sense of responsibility to support his parents, and he appreciates the stability and benefits that come with this job. So if you asked him why he stays in a job he doesn’t love, he’d say that he stays because it’s the best way he knows to support his parents whom he loves.

He values his parents’ well-being, so he tolerates a less than perfect job. He knows that is the tradeoff he is making and he knows he is making a choice. He will tell you that if his circumstances with his parents were different, he would quit and do freelance work. But his circumstances aren’t different, they are what they are today. And he’s not bitter or resentful, he is very realistic and matter-of-fact about his situation.

Here’s a very different example. Several years ago I was working with a new team of diverse leaders and I started out conducting some 1 on 1 interviews with each of them. One of the questions I asked everyone was “How did you choose this particular career path?” I still remember one individual who looked at me with a blank stare. He didn’t understand the question. So I elaborated: “You know, after college, how did you decide that this was what you wanted to do, how did you decide to come work here and follow this career path?” He still didn’t get the question – I had really stumped him. So I tried a different tack, “What do you like about your current job?” He still couldn’t answer me. Finally he just explained that he never knew what he liked and he never had any idea of what he wanted to do. After college, a relative had helped him get this job, and he had just never thought about doing anything else. He didn’t know if he liked it or not, it was just a job and he would probably do it until he retired.

After that interview, I felt sad. I felt sad because he seemed completely passive about his life. He wasn’t unhappy so much as he was just unaware. But he’s not the only person like that. There are many people out there sleepwalking through life.

I hope you are not sleepwalking. I hope you are aware of the choices you are making. I hope that you could answer the question why? I hope you know these things:

- Why you are living in the particular town where you live
- Why you are working where you work
- Why you are in the relationship you are in
- Why your level of physical fitness is what it is today
- Why you have the amount of debt you have
- Why you spent your last weekend doing what you did

If you can answer all these questions, congratulations. There are no right or wrong answers to these questions.  If you can’t answer all of these, you might want to do some thinking or writing about these. 

Life is too short to sleepwalk.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Why Can't You Just Get Along?

Most of us work in an office somewhere. In the majority of offices around the world, people appreciate it when our coworkers are agreeable and easy to get along with. I think most of us would rather alongside someone we like, someone who is agreeable. Many of us were raised and taught to get along with others.

For the most part I believe in the value of being agreeable. Being agreeable and getting along with others are good skills to have.

However, I am here to tell you that there are many hidden costs to being agreeable, and being agreeable can cost you dearly. If you do get along with everyone, then there might be something wrong with your situation. – you might be a little bit too comfortable.

1. If you agree to everything that people ask of you, you will get bogged down in garbage and meaningless work. Think about it – if there is really awesome fun work to do, someone will want to do it for themself. They aren’t going to come knocking on your door to ask you to go to Hawaii to film that next beer commercial. Instead, they will come knocking on your door to ask you to fix that spreadsheet formula or unjam the copier, or provide boxes of paperwork to the auditor. People generally are more likely to ask you to do crap work. I hope you don’t say yes to the crap work.

2. If you agree to everything that people ask of you, you will give up your ability to think critically and make smart choices. Being agreeable means doing even the stupid work that is tedious and meaningless - the stuff that no one wants to do. As for me, I say that if no one wants to do some specific work, then go find someone who does want to do it. Or better yet, just STOP doing it. If it’s stupid work, don’t waste anyone’s time doing it.

3. If you say to everything people want, you are really just saying no to everything too. There is just no way that you can satisfy everyone – that is totally and completely unrealistic. And you won’t be able to get everything done and you will NEVER keep everyone happy. So just don’t even try it. You will fail and you will disappoint the people around you.

4. If you agree to everything, you won’t be able to take a stand for anything. Seriously, I KNOW that many people reading this blog are smart and informed and want to make a difference in the world. In order to make a difference, you have to take a stand for something. So take a stand and make a difference, but do not agree to everything you are asked to do. You have to say no to something in order to say yes to something else. So get good at saying no, be proud of saying no, and remember that you need to say no in order to say yes.

Since I’m clearly not in favor of being agreeable all the time, what’s the alternative to being agreeable? I think the opposite of being agreeable is being logical.

If you are logical, then you can explain WHY you are not going to do the dumb things at work. If you are logical, you can explain your rationale for what you ARE going to do, and you can explain what you ARE taking a stand for. If you are logical, then you can appeal to the logic in other people, you can communicate your true priorities, and you can explain the risks associated with being agreeable. Most importantly, if you are logical, you can explain why no one should be doing the stupid work at work - because it wastes time and money.

Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert writes a really really awesome blog. Check it out. He has a blog post where he described focus groups, and an experience he had doing a pilot television show. In some of the focus groups they did to test out the television show, the production folks were excited because no one hated the show. For the most part, all the focus group people sort of liked it. Yeah! – no one hated the new show. Scott however, thought this was a terrible outcome and terrible feedback, because he wanted some people to hate the show. As he explains it, if no one really hates your product, then no one will really love it either. Ultimately, you want people to feel strongly about your product - you want them to feel passionately about it and talk about it to others. But if no one hates, no one will love it, and so no one will ever talk about it. In other words, having a product that everyone agrees with more or less, is like a death sentence. If no one hates your product, no one loves it either, and no one will feel strongly enough to go out and buy it.

I know that you as a person are not a product. And yes, focus groups are usually collecting feedback about products. But the principles of product development are the same with people. You want people to feel something about you. Positive or negative, you want to provoke a feeling. If you don’t provoke anything, you will blend in with everyone else and you’ll never stand out. If complacency and comfort are important to you, then go on being agreeable.

But if you want to be remarkable and extraordinary and you want to stand out, then give up being agreeable. Just stop it – because it won’t serve you well.

Instead, be logical. And be passionate and enthusiastic and honest and authenthic. Authenticity and passion will help you be successful in life - they will help you much much more than being agreeable.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Please Measure the Right Things

There has been a lot of writing online lately about metrics. Matt writes here about the very practical concept of white board accounting. Lots of marketing folks have been writing about conversion rates and page views and Twitter followers. I believe that measurements matter, but I also believe we need to get clear about identifying the RIGHT measurements before we get our measuring sticks out and get to work.

In my own life, I’ve been observing how easy and appealing it is for us to measure the wrong things. I don’t mean the BIG wrong things, like houses or cars or spouses or diamonds. I mean the smaller daily things that we get lulled into measuring, because they are easy to measure. We are all human, we are notoriously good at deluding ourselves, and we are fallible.

Let me share a personal example. I recently sent out an email to a large group of work colleagues, with a list of upcoming event details, with dates and times of group meetings. I prefaced it with the header “Please don’t delete this email.” A friend of mine commented later that the message worked, because he didn’t delete that email. I clarified for him however that I wouldn’t consider my email successful until he actually attended a meeting. My intention was NOT to keep emails hanging around all year, my intention was to have people attend real meetings. But that’s how we commonly think these days. We measure the “intermediate metric” because it’s easier and faster and simpler. We might keep the email in our inbox, but that doesn’t guarantee we’ll take any action.

The real things in life that are more important to measure are messier, more complicated, and more subjective. Therefore we are less likely to measure the important things. Yes you can measure how much time you spend with your spouse each week, but is it quantity or quality of time that matters most? And how exactly does one measure the quality of time? On a different subject, how would one measure career success? The traditional answer for the previous generations would be to measure the number of promotions, raises, and awards. But I think that measurement has changed significantly in the past 10-20 years. People are still people, and we all have similar basic human need, but I think that how we assess and measure those needs is evolving with every generation.

Here’s what I did over the past several months. Every day on the drive home after work, I started measuring how I felt about the work I did that day. When I say “how I felt” I don’t mean happy or sad or glad. Instead I asked myself these questions:
  • Do I feel I accomplished meaningful work that day? 
  • Do I feel I worked on projects that really made a difference? 
  • Was I energized about the work I did that day? 
  • Was I excited about the work I had in front of me tomorrow? 
I didn’t write down the answers every day, but I just made mental notes to myself. Yes these were subjective and personal measurements. Importantly, I didn’t judge myself or anyone else for the answers. I just took in all the data, and tried to identify the trends. My measurement of career success includes the degree to which I use my talents and my level of excitement and energy I have for my work. Therefore, that is what I tried to measure with my questions.

Another way of saying this is that we all need to be scientists. We all need to be rigorous and accurate about the data we collect. We could thin of our life as one huge scientific experiment. But in order for us to learn something, we need to understand the right data. Data that measures outcomes, not just activity. Yards gained does NOT equate to touchdowns scored.

Another blogger wrote a useful article that advised, “If you want to start a running routine, don’t go buy new running shoes.” The reason is that you will mistakenly consider your new shoe purchase to be a productive activity, when it’s really not. Only running will make you a runner. Everything else is superfluous. This is a very disciplined way to think.

So now I’ll ask you – what are the right things you should be measuring in your life? What matters most to you? Write that down - no more than five things that truly matter to you. Then get creative about HOW you can measure those right things. Don’t worry if the answers are messy or subjective.

Just make sure you don’t waste time measuring things that don’t matter. Life is just too short for that.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Newsflash: Catch People Doing Something Right

I was in a leadership training class a couple weeks ago, with a facilitator from another company. We spent two days digging deep into one specific model of leadership. The class was relatively interesting and I took some useful notes.

Once thing I wrote down has stuck in my mind and I have been chewing on it since then:

“Catch people doing something right.” - Ken Blanchard

My understanding of this statement was that Ken Blanchard thought that managers – in their quest to manage other people - might be more prone to catch people doing things wrong. In large organizations, this is often the case. Traditional behavior modification efforts – in offices, in schools, at home – can be lumped into two camps – the carrot or the stick. With the stick, you criticize people for doing wrong, and you punish them. With the carrot, you can motivate people with something they want: money, recognition, a larger office, candy, etc. Parents of small children are very familiar with this dichotomy.

I believe that what Ken Blanchard was suggesting was that if we focus on catching people doing the right things in the right ways, and we praise that behavior and recognize that behavior, people will do more of that behavior. He encouraged business leaders to get in the habit of catching people doing something right every day.

I tend to think we should catch people doing something right for a different reason entirely. We should catch people doing something right because it will put us in a better mood. It will make us smile, it will make us happier, and it will make us more grateful for other people. I wrote in my previous posting that whatever we pay attention to in our life expands. If we look for people doing wrong, we will find more people doing wrong. If we look for people doing right, we will find more people doing right. Whatever we pay attention to expands. Therefore, why not spend more energy looking for the positive experiences in our life?

I bought a new car this weekend. The process of buying the car was a thoroughly and completely unpleasant experience. I was passed around between four different salesmen, I was given wrong information, or not given information I requested, and by the time I had decided on the exact car to buy, I was pretty irritated. Finally at 6:00 on a Saturday night I was passed to the finance manager, and he could totally tell that I was fed up. And he turned out to be a very nice man. He was calm, and apologetic, and sincere – not in a slimy way, just in a genuinely human way. He asked if something had happened to upset me, and I gave him the short overview of my experiences. We had a very calm, rational conversation, and I calmed down. He asked about the rest of my weekend, and my boyfriend, and we talked about things other than new cards. He could tell I wasn’t going to buy any of the extended warranties or additional financing products, so he didn’t even bother with his usual sales pitch. And on the one financing option where I was undecided, he was willing to give me another couple hours to decide. He didn’t try to pressure me and he didn’t hustle me, and he was just a very nice person, at the time when I totally needed to be working with a genuinely nice person. Thank you Brian Knight.

He’s someone who I caught doing something right. My sitting here recognizing him for doing something right is not going to change his behavior. What it changes is my attitude about people and my mental state. Instead of complaining about the slimy salesmen, I can be appreciative that there was one genuine man who was helpful and considerate during this process. Reflecting on his behaviors makes me less irritated and more grateful for the kindness of strangers. I for one would rather be in an appreciative state of mind than an irritated one.

After I left the car dealership - at 7:30 on a Saturday night, I then called my insurance agent, fully expecting to leave a message on voicemail. However, their after hours phone service routed me to an actual operator, who spoke English (!) and could actually help me immediately with my questions. The very friendly woman on the phone helped me by explaining the three insurance options I had for the new car, and actually told me that it would be in my best interest NOT to get the most expensive of the three options, and explained why. I couldn’t believe it. With one local phone call on a Saturday night, I got routed to a real person, who could actually help me, and within 10 minutes I had all the information I needed to make an informed decision. Talk about doing something right! That was more than right, that was AMAZING! Thank you Allstate.

So here’s where you can jump into this topic. Write in the comments section where you have caught people doing something right in the past two weeks. You don’t need to list specific names, but describe where/when/how you caught people being helpful.

The other option is to actually get in the habit of doing this on a daily basis. Every day this week, right down one instance where you caught someone doing something right. Bonus points if you take the extra step to actually tell them and thank them for doing something right.

Then at the end of the week, see if your mindset has shifted. And let me know how it goes.

Friday, February 25, 2011

10 Things You Can Learn About Life From My 4 Months of Blogging

1. It’s good to have a specific, objective goal to pursue, where you can easily measure your progress. In 2011 I committed to blogging twice a week, and so far I’m doing well. But I always know how well I am doing against that goal. Do you have a clear goal and a clear way to measure your goal?

2. It’s important to schedule time to focus on the goal. Like many people, much of my week is consumed by work, errands, meals, sleep, and exercise. There’s not a ton of “free time” floating around all week – I wish there was. Blogging doesn’t just happen on it’s own, I have to actually carve out time from my schedule to write. If I’m lazy, nothing gets done by magic. Sometimes I have to choose between sleeping and blogging. 

3. You need to show up. This is more important than actually scheduling time, this is when I actually show up at my computer, sit down, and write. I have to commit to writing, but then I have to show up AND write AND hit publish. It’s not real until I hit publish. 

4. It’s good to let other people’s success inspire you. Letting others inspire you is the opposite reaction of envy. Envy = bad. Inspiration = good. There are SO MANY great writers out there writing. Every day I stumble across another good blog (and dozens of not-so-good ones). So I have a choice – I can tell myself that everyone else is already writing good stuff, or I can get energized by the opportunity to share my own writing with the world. And I have learned so much lately by reading other people. But my reaction to the success of others is a choice.

5. You have to start something to figure out what you need to learn. You really can’t predict what you need to learn, because before you’ve started, you don’t know what you don’t know. After you’ve started doing something, then you know what you don’t know, and then you have to go make yourself better at it. Before I started blogging, I didn’t realize there was an skillset around good post titles. But in fact, some people are better at writing titles than other people. That’s something I’m trying to learn.

6. You have to start something to get feedback from other people. People can’t help you until you’ve actually put something out there in the world.

7. You have to start doing something in order to figure out the difference between good quality and bad quality. For me, I had to do a couple months of writing before I could figure out which blog articles really got me energized and which ones felt flat. Some blog ideas really turned into great articles, and others just never got off the ground. But the more I write, the better I can distinguish the differences between good posts and less good posts.

8. By practicing something, you get data about what’s working. And what’s not working. By data, I mean real information that is useful feedback. For me, I can track how many people are reading my blog, on which days of the week. If I want to get really detailed, I could experiment with publishing at different times of day, with different length posts. But I couldn’t get data until after I started publishing.

9. The more I write, the more I want to write. And the more writing ideas I find every day. I’ve taken to carrying around a leather journal that Mad Dog gave me and I have literally been writing down writing ideas every day. It’s true that the more attention you give to something, the more that part of your life expands. The more I write, the more writing ideas come to me, because I’m paying better attention to everything. These days, everything can be a potential writing idea.

10. The more I write, the more credibility I gain. Now I’m walking my talk, and I’m starting to establish a track record as a blogger. Until I started blogging, I was just someone who talked about writing. Now I’m writing. And that feels good.

Writing this post reminds me of the wonderful verse by the poet Antonio Machado:

“The wanderer, there is no road, the road is made by walking.”

Whatever you want to do in the world, whatever you want to accomplish, or whoever you want to be, you need to start. Start now. Do something, anything, to get you started towards your goals. I guarantee that siting here right now reading this, you don’t yet know what you don’t know, you don’t yet know what you need to learn, you don’t yet know where you will struggle or where you will succeed. But you can’t know any of those things until you start.

Start now.